Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Rushdie on PEN American Center and Charlie Hebdo

Salman Rushdie

Alexandra Alter recently interviewed "Salman Rushdie on His New Novel, With a Character Who Floats Just Above Ground" (New York Times, September 4, 2015), and along with Rushdie's words on his novel were some words from him about free speech, words motivated by Alter's query:
Q. You were very vocal in supporting the PEN American Center's decision to honor the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo this year, something that some other writers, including Peter Carey and Francine Prose, opposed, because they said the magazine perpetuated bigoted ideas. Were you surprised to be on the other side of an ideological divide from some of your peers?

A. I could not believe it. Still can't believe it. So many writers who are old friends. It was really shocking. Now, of course, the lasting damage is in some of those friendships. I haven't seen any of them, nor have any of them been in touch with me. I felt a sense of injustice, that these people were executed for drawing pictures. If we're a free-speech organization, how can we not be on their side? For Mr. Carey to say to The New York Times that he didn't see it as a free-speech issue, I thought, "What?"

Q. He's a friend of yours, right?

A. Well, was. It's bewildering and saddening.
I'm glad Rushdie supports free speech so unreservedly. He has to. of course, due to the fatwa against him for his 1988 novel, The Satanic Verses. Like Rushdie, I am also - and always - surprised to hear writers speak out against free speech.

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At 3:56 PM, Blogger Mikey_C said...

It's ironic that, according to my memories of the Rushdie affair, the attacks on him came from the right wing (basically "why are we spending taxpayers' money on defending this darkie?"), but now the mendacious "racist" slurs against the Charlie Hebdo martyrs are coming from the left.

At 4:44 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

A great irony, indeed.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 11:29 AM, Anonymous Dr. Boli said...

It seems a little hasty to say that one must either support Charlie Hebdo or speak out against free speech. It is possible to say that the Charlie Hebdo cartoons were mean-spirited and humorless, designed rather to hurt people’s feelings deliberately than to make people laugh, and still defend the magazine’s right to publish them, and the right of even mean-spirited people to go about their lives in peace and security. It is possible, in other words, to approve of the freedom, and to disapprove of the way it is exercised. And it is possible to find the speech so offensive that one cannot in good conscience be seen to approve of it, while nevertheless insisting that the offensive speech has a right to exist and be published without consequences other than our smug disapproval. It was even possible to make that argument, though a bit long-windedly, without using the fashionable term “false dichotomy.”

It is also a little sad to read that Mr. Rushdie has apparently cut off his friends because they disagreed with him. It suggests that he valued, not their friendship, but their affirmation. Friends are rare and valuable, and friendships should be stronger than disagreements even on important principles. But then, as long as we are speaking of difficult choices, it is possible to think Salman Rushdie is the most talented novelist in English since Vladimir Nabokov, while at the same time considering the idea that he may, personally, be a bit of a twit.

At 11:54 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks for the considered response. I don't really disagree, I suppose. I certainly accept that free speech has limits, e.g., shouting "Fire!" in a crowded theater.

But I think insults must be allowed because anything can be taken as an insult.

For example, Piss Christ is certainly insulting to Christians, but I would not try to have it forbidden.

I'll close now since I hate typing on iPad.

Jeffery Hodges

At 1:33 AM, Blogger Mikey_C said...

Charlie Hebdo offers a peculiarly French brand of humour. This site helps explain it. Although I'm English I find it quite amusing, but then I am constantly having to bite my tongue in polite company.
The humour shouldn't even need defending at this time because is inappropriate to use the cold-blooded murder of the artists as an opportunity to negatively criticise their work. The assassins knew what exactly they were doing if the likes of Peter Carey don't - Western civilisation is under attack here. I can very why see Rushdie feels he has irreconcilable differences with the man - he is a cultural quisling.

At 3:11 AM, Blogger Carter Kaplan said...

Thanks for the link, Mike. I don't know much about C.H. This is informative.

Under attack? Yes and no. My sense is Western Civ is being re-engineered. Moreover, it appears the re-engineering is coming as much from within as from without.

At 3:20 AM, Blogger Carter Kaplan said...

Consider, what is more destructive: 1) Islamists seeking to establish Sharia law in the United States including the restriction of free speech, or 2) academicians who dismiss the U.S. Constitution, who don't believe in free speech, who advance some sort of John Rawls political technocracy, and who teach that Locke and Jefferson offer the same program as Robert Nozick (a disingenuous comparison to say the least)?

At 3:49 AM, Blogger Carter Kaplan said...

An interesting editorial here.

But even more interesting is this comment posted at the bottom:

"This is a brilliant essay missing one element: that a large part of the cause of this humanitarian disaster was/is caused by the United States. Can anyone please explain why we overthrew Kadhafi? Can anyone explain, in other than disgraceful political terms, why we removed all soldiers from Iraq? Can anyone explain why we sided with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt? Can anyone explain the incoherence of our response to the conflict in Syria? Can anyone explain why we are distancing ourselves from our traditional ally, Israel? Now add...can anyone explain why we are allowing the worst purveyor of terrorism in the world a path to nuclear weapons? We are turning the world upside down, and NOBODY is questioning it. This administration has the blood of the world on its hands, and is in danger of having the blood of all mankind there, as well. Why?"

Meanwhile, this from The Independent:
Saudi Arabia offers Germany 200 mosques – one for every 100 refugees who arrived last weekend

At 9:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

That comment is interesting only to those who know the 'right' answers to questions constructed to elicit them.

KSA can offer to build mosques for Muslim refugees Germany has so generously welcomed because petrodollars shield its thick face (as they say in Korean) from turning red in response to global ridicule.


At 5:41 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

The following sentence needs a slight alteration:

"This is a brilliant essay missing one element: that a large part of the cause of this humanitarian disaster was/is caused by the United States."

A "cause" "caused"? Too many "causes." Try this:

"This is a brilliant essay missing one element: that a large part . . . of this humanitarian disaster was/is caused by the United States."

Anyway, the questions can be interesting even to a reader like me whose answers would likely not entirely cohere with the commenter's answers.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 10:10 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You might find this off-topic story on a recent Femen protest of interest.


At 12:09 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Not really off-target. I support the Femen's right to free speech. But I also support free speech for the Muslims. In this case, if I understand correctly, the Femen were disrupting the free speech of the Muslims. The protest should have taken place outside the meeting place of the Muslims. That wouldn't have had quite the same shock value, of course . . .

Jeffery Hodges

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